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An English local election count

by Gary J Fri May 4th, 2007 at 12:26:19 PM EST

Rather overshadowed by the Scottish and Welsh results, a lot of English local government elections took place on 3rd May 2007.

I took part in the election in the Borough of Slough (west of Heathrow Airport for those not familiar with the geography). Slough elects a third of its 41 councillors for four year terms, in three of a four year cycle (the other year is for county council elections, but Slough is a unitary authority so we do not have that type of election).

One seat in each of the 14 wards was up for election this year, using first past the post voting (the candidate with the most votes wins, even if that is a minority of all the votes cast).

I was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Central ward, which is a Labour/Conservative marginal to the north and east of the town centre. I was what we call a paper candidate (ie I was just a name on the ballot paper). I was actively working in the campaign for another ward where we retained the seat.

Below the fold I will explain what happened at the count, so those who are unfamiliar with such displays of British style democracy can look upon our works and despair.

The count began at 10:00 am on the day after the election. This was an innovation as traditionally the count takes place over night. However new checks required on postal ballots made it simpler just to start when the counters had enjoyed the luxury of a few hours sleep. It is the thin end of the wedge I tell you - soon we will be having fair elections and that will be the end of civilisation as we know it.

The counting room is laid out with the officials and counters in the middle of a large hall, with tables blocking off most of the room from the predatory hordes of politicians awaiting the results. These come in several grades - the agent who is supposed to speak for his party when dealing with the returning officer and his deputies, the candidates who await their fate, partners of candidates who may or may not understand what is going on and the counting agents who are supposed to keep an eye on what the official counters do and draw their attention to errors (unless those errors help the counting agents party).

A lesser breed of political guests and the press are kept in a small room adjacent to the main hall.

The general public are, of course, completely excluded by teams of security guards and the police. Attendance at the count is strictly limited.

The ballot box from each polling station in the ward is solemnly produced, its seal broken and the ballot papers are poured on the table in front of the counters. Then begins the first stage of the count known as verification.

The ballot papers are first unfolded and then sorted into piles of twenty, to check if we have the same number of ballot papers as the polling station issued. An experienced watcher can do sample counts and get an idea of the balance of opinion in a polling district (valuable to politicians as the votes from all the polling stations in the ward are mixed together before the count of candidates vote totals begins and no official records are kept of the result in individual polling districts).

Hopefully the total of votes found is correct. It is not unusual to have one or two go astray so nobody normally worries if after a couple of attempts there is still a minor discrepancy in the figures.

When verification is complete the verified ballot papers are put back in a box and the whole thing is repeated until all the ballot papers in the ward are verified to the returning officer's satisfaction.

The ballot papers are then mixed up and the count proper begins. The counters divide the ballots into piles by the candidate voted for. Doubtful or disputed ballots are put to one side to be reviewed later in the count.

Bundles of twenty votes for a candidate are compiled and are clipped together. They are then removed from the counters table to another tanble behind them. More senior counters add up the number of bundles and produce a vote total. The disputed ballots are looked at by candidates and agents. Unless the totals are very close it is usually simple to agree which ballots are acceptable and which are spoilt.

A provisional result is produced and the agent can then ask for a re-count if the result is close enough in the opinion of the reeturning officer.

In my count the first provisional result was Conservative 1,437; Labour 1,321; Liberal Democrat 187; Independent 51, The Slough Party 33 (with 15 spoilt papers and one ballot having gone missing during the count). The Labour Party requesterd a re-count. The Labour agent also warned the returning officer that they were contemplating legal action because they allegedly had evidence of electoral fraud (an empty house with 11 postal voters registered there). However as the returning officer said, he had to declare some result.

The recount produced only one change. Two Conservative votes had been wrongly included in a Labour bundle. The result was then finalised amongst derisory Tory cries of "we want another recount, we are enjoying it too much to stop".

So democracy prevailed for another year.

Hey thanks Gary! So, well??? Are you the 2nd (known) ET-er that has taken public office. Inquiring minds want to know. How did you do??

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 12:43:26 PM EST
I have been a candidate in 22 local council elections since 1979. I have never won, so I regret I have no actual record of public office (perhaps if I started campaigning in my own ward instead of helping candidates in target wards, my results would improve).
by Gary J on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 01:11:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Gary!  You Liberal Democrat you!

heh heh.

Our local green councillor has been a right old moaning minny.  Moaning about the local park (so dangerious!  Goths!); moaning about the parking (you're Green, mate!  Stop moaning about car parking spaces!); the bins (they were so ambivalent; the bins work so well!)

But I gave them my vote.  Yes, yes.  I know, a Green vote is a wasted vote.

With twelve city councillors, it makes it the largest ever single unitary council Green Group of councillors in the country. The party won more than 20% of the vote across the city at the election.

It gained two seats in central Brighton's Regency Ward and another in Hanover & Elm Grove Ward, with 22 year old Vick Wakefield-Jarrett taking a seat from veteran Labour councillor Joyce Edmond-Smith.

The Greens also took three council seats in Queens Park Ward from Labour, doubling the total number of Greens to twelve out of 54, only one less than Labour's 13.


So...what was our final result?

Full party results:

Conservative 26 (+6)
Labour 13 (-10)
Green 12 (+6)
LibDem 2 (-1)
Independent 1 (-1)

Green plus labour plus LibDem = a draw, with the indpendent (who he?  Who she?  I cannae find out.  I remember some BNP activity along the coast, but I think that was dealt with...and I don't think those areas are part of Brighton & Hove.)

So I hope that, with 12 councillors, the greens start making big Green gestures...

Hey, if any of you are reading:

Source public meals from local farmers!  By public I mean: schools; hosptials; meals on wheels; council offices.  And see how much you have left over!

Start talking about wind turbines on the downs!  Talk to a certain Chris Cook about setting up an LLP with EDF!

Make cycle lanes half of the road!  We want to be Amsterdam, but we have hills.  And we don't care!  We have strong thighs.  Okay.  Leave the hills as they are, but where it's flat: half the road to cyclists.  (We have five (count 'em!) major bike shops in town...I'm talking serious bike business shops.  But get those cars and buses out of our way!  Give us our own traffic lights so we can avoid irritated motorists!  Sort out the junctions!

And, hey!  Demand a policy of "No new builds that aren't net zero emission."  !!!!!  And look for financing (talk to Chris about LLP options!) for any conversions....the less invasive (eco-footprint-wise), the bigger...the grant!

And sort out the fuggen schools!  We need a new secondary school!  Or two!

Cough cough cough cough cough cough cough cough!


Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 07:28:10 PM EST
Been to Brighton a few times, rg.

Lots of Housing Co-ops down there.

Best candidate for an LLP is the new football ground tho'

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 07:55:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh man...

Shall I tell you about our local football team?  Shall I?

Okay.  Very quick.  Most people in Brighton have no interest in football.  As a friend of mine says, "More people go swimming on a Saturday than watch football."  Or is it "More people watch swimming, when it's on the telly."


Football is a bizness.  Have you heard the latest seat prices?

But, and yet, we have our football fans (The Goldstone Ground!)...and okay, why not?  But our stadium (The mighty...er Withdean) is...not up to the job.  So they want to build a new one.

Guess where.

Next to the large A27 where it cuts through the South Downs.  Just about opposite Sussex University.  Across the road from Falmer Village.

What do the people from Falmer Village think?

(They will give you resigned shrugs.)

How big do they want to build this stadium?

To seat 23,000 people.

Because yes, of course, Brighton needs more people!  We are sardines and we demand to be jammed ever closer into our tins!

So...an LLP stadium.  A great idea!  Them's that want it can invest in it and reap the rewards...as they struggle to lose against Lowestoft...

Although the idea is that with a proper stadium, more people would turn up, more money = better players = better position.

So yeah!  Create an LLP and it may become a virtuous circle.

Turns out, though, that the proposed site of the stadium comes under LEWES council's remit, and they said no.  So it went to...yes!...John Prescott

How was he supposed to weigh that one up?

In other news, I read today that our burglary rate has dropped by 57% (!)  The reason?  The police have been nabbing all the heroin addicts.

A bloke who ran a couple of central takeaway places got nicked a while back for having a heckuva lot of ecstacy (actually I think it was cocaine) in a warehouse out in the countryside.

Housing is interesting down here.  They can't by law build anywhere (good!) so every available space is triple parked.  the loft conversion business has (check out the roofs without veluxes) a good few years to run...

..but the much publicised eco-build near the station turns out to be...a normal build, with a couple of carbon-neutral palaces built on the edge.  Asking price: if your bank balance (or salary times three) doesn't go up to seven figures, don't ask.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 08:40:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(I must add, for the sake of clarity, that the eco-palaces are in the millions.  By law the new build had to incorporate one third affordable housing.  Housing association buys one half, you buy the other half, when you sell you owe the association what they put in or half the sale value, whichever is higher.)

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.
by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 08:47:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would never claim a vote for another party was a wasted vote (unless I was trying to squeeze that vote for partisan advantage - politics is an opportunistic activity).

What we need is proportional representation so people can vote for the party they really support. Under first past the post the tendency is for the elector to vote for the least bad of the two parties which are perceived to be in first and second place locally. That is what makes the wasted vote argument effective.

I am glad to see from the above posts that Brighton has a vibrant local political culture, even if it causes problems for my party.

by Gary J on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 10:19:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What are the chances that your vote affects anything? Really? So most votes are wasted anyway, so why not vote as I want you too...

I think the whole "wasted vote" thing does not hold up in any reasonably large constituencies unless the goal is to have voted for the winner and thus be on the winning team.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat May 5th, 2007 at 05:17:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the UK the wasted vote argument was traditionally used to squeeze the votes of minor parties (like the Liberals - regarded as a minor party since circa 1924 by the Conservative and Labour parties). It was more effective in a first past the post election to fill a single place, than it would be in a proportional representation election to fill multiple seats.

The refinement, since the Liberal/Alliance/Liberal Democrats became a significant electoral factor in 1974, is that the third party realised it too could deploy the wasted vote argument whenever it was perceived to be one of the two leading parties in a constituency.

Small numbers of votes can be significant. I myself witnessed a local election in Slough when two candidates were tied and a seat was awarded on a throw of dice. UK parliamentary elections, since universal suffrage, have produced majorities as low as two.

by Gary J on Tue May 8th, 2007 at 08:49:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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